Finally, it was agreed that whereas Troup's 92 was a number of record, Holman's temper tantrum didn't have to be discussed on the air. It didn't really matter what the announcers said, because right there on their screens the viewers saw a ruffled journeyman named Leroy Bornhop win his first national tournament by rolling 179 and 169, respectively, in the semis and finals. His scores were barely above the national male average. "Oh, my God," Shippy moaned, only partly in mock despair, "the mailgrams are already piling up on my desk." This is what happens when bowling keeps advertising that anybody can bowl. Anybody believes it, and then anybody wants high scores, like anybody else. Or he quits.
Dr. George R. Allen nods knowingly at this development. Allen is also an erstwhile pinboy, but thereafter he went straight, earned a Ph.D. in marketing, management and finance, became a tenured professor at American University, and then published books on golf, blackjack and craps before circling back in on bowling. Allen then spent three months at the Library of Congress reading about nothing but bowling (this is believed to be a world record), and he's convinced that the end of the bowling world as we know it is nigh. He's like the lousy spoilsport on the Titanic who kept saying that they really should get some binoculars up on the bridge. But, of course, nobody listened to him, as nobody listens to Allen. "There's a conspiracy of silence at the top of the industry," he says.
Bowling people watched warily (and from some distance) as they saw me listening to Allen and taking notes. Allen told me he wasn't the least bit surprised that (as I bitchily revealed to him) Tessman, the ABC bossman, was jetting all over the world, hardly pausing to stop in the Midwest. But, like many iconoclasts, Allen always speaks in placid, reasoned tones. He wears heavy horned rims and professorial corduroy coats and ties in subdued earth tones. His only immoderation appears to be his love for bowling and his profligate employment, when he writes, of words in capital letters. An example: "I am able to look at the COMMERCIAL or BUSINESS side of bowling with some degree of expertise.... Over the past seven years I have PERSONALLY ATTENDED most of the major bowling activities." And he remains convinced that bowling is going to hell in a handbasket and that it peaked around 1980, when there were 8,867,000 sanctioned league bowlers—three out of every eight folks in the country. By the year 2000, Allen says, there will be barely half that many, with only one in six citizens going to the alleys. Naturally, nobody who makes his living from bowling wants to hear such sacrilege. Instead, the approved dogma is that because America is aging, all those baby-boomers who jogged and surfed will turn to bowling, and the graying of the republic will be celebrated on crammed Sunbelt lanes.
But Allen asserts that other developments were set in motion long ago that must doom bowling unless it radically changes its ways. He contends that the sport's three commercial "integers"—the Bowling Proprietors Association of America, along with Brunswick and AMF, the firms that manufacture the automatic pinsetters that the BPAA members buy—led the ABC and WIBC astray in the 1960s, changing the very nature of the game for their own self-interest: promoting bowling as recreation and, in the process, transforming it from a sport to an evening out. "Until then the bowler was perceived as an athlete and sportsman competing in a game that took some skill," Allen says, ruefully shaking his head, "but there's been a structural shift, a permanent change." He writes what he believes it has become: "The image of bowling is that of a NOTHING activity . . . RECREATIONAL BOWLERS ARE NOT GOING BOWLING, they are going recreating."
What's happening, Allen says, is that because fewer people who bowl have any real commitment to the sport, they'll drop out—there's now an almost 18% annual turnover in league bowlers—and find another way to spend Tuesday nights, until no one is left bowling but a hard core of the industrial working class in a society with a service economy.
But then, bowling appears to have always been recreathletics. A century ago, when the sport enjoyed its first great boom in America, the accepted procedure was for three teams to roll in each match so that one team could always be up at the bar having a few beers. Nowadays, bowlers appear to want the lanes greased right and the balls turned into bombs so they can all shoot 300's—and have more time to have a draft, flirt with teammates (that's what "mixed" league means) or play video games. What the hell, apart from sex and fishing, Americans appear to bowl more than they do anything else, and look at it this way: Present company excepted, who's ever perfect at sex or fishing?
More and more these days, bowlers go to huge suburban alcazars—48, 64, even more (!) shiny lanes—with baby-sitters, waitresses in little miniskirts, pro shops, video games, the works. These amusement cathedrals are owned and run by sharp businessmen like Jaime Carrion of Sarasota, Fla., whose other commercial interests include things like airlines, real estate, orange groves, and horse and cattle breeding. Carrion's five Florida centers are managed by his nephew, Rafi Carrion, who's typical of the new bowling entrepeneur. He went to prep school in New England and then to the University of Pennsylvania. "Before I got into bowling with my uncle, the only people I ever knew who bowled were Archie Bunker, Fred Flintstone and Ralph Kramden," Rafi says.
I visited Rafi at a state-of-the-art bowling emporium, the Galaxy Lanes, featuring Rafi's Bar & Grille, in Fort Myers, Fla. The place is splendiferous, with all the colors of the...galaxy. The bathrooms are tiled and spotless, the air in the building is changed every 20 minutes, there's a TV above each lane so that bored bowlers can watch soap operas between frames, the balls whip back at 60 mph to keep the keglers from lollygagging, and all the scoring is computerized, which is a special blessing, inasmuch as more bowlers than you would imagine never learn how to score.
The Galaxy Lanes came in at almost $5 million, the place is an absolute showcase, and everyone in bowling is convinced that the sport's future lies entirely with such edifices. Rafi knocks on wood, which he does quite a bit. He, too, believes that bowlers will only patronize magnificent buildings like the Galaxy Lanes, that the mailing of America is complete.
And then I visited the Holler House, which boasts the two oldest sanctioned alleys in the U.S. The Holler House really is a house, as well as a bar and bowling alley. It's on the south side of Milwaukee, and even people from the ABC sneak down from Greendale to toss down a beer or two and roll a couple lines on alleys that were sanctioned in 1910.